Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week | My Experience with Loneliness

By Simon Hamilton

This week (9-15 May 2022) marks Mental Health Awareness Week. Organised by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to raise awareness of issues surrounding mental health and to advocate for change. This year the charity has chosen loneliness as the theme and aims to raise awareness of both the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the practical steps we can take to address it. Mental health is something that I’m incredibly passionate about and I wanted to take this opportunity to be vulnerable and share my own experiences of loneliness. My hope is that it resonates with people – even if it’s just one person – and somehow offers them a glimmer of hope. So, here goes nothing…

I want to start off by saying that as a highly sociable person, I never in a million years thought that when I spoke to my GP about my mental health worries, she would play back to me everything I had said and utter the following words (which I’ll never forget) “It sounds to me, Simon, that you are experiencing loneliness”. I mean, what do you say to that? In my case not a lot. It was an awkward silence that seemed to go on forever. But, when I got back in my car and drove home, I had time to think about everything we had spoken about, and it hit me – she was right.

Woman Holding Man's Hand

Before the pandemic, I was a very social person. I was out and about, I was meeting up with my friends, and I was spending time with my family. I was definitely not feeling lonely. However, over the last two years, things changed. The various lockdowns came and went and for much of that I was left on my own with no one to keep me company, except for my two dogs, Hulk and Lady. 

In that time, I was also made redundant which didn’t help. Fortunately, I was able to land a fantastic job, which was fully remote and continued to be as restrictions were eased. During that period, I became fully-focused on my work, an intense role that meant I rarely had the energy to keep up with the WhatsApp chats, Zooms and quizzes we all did. And so slowly, without realising, I had become very distant from the world around me, sucked into a vortex of Netflix which disconnected me from the activities and people I loved. 

The Mental Health Foundation describes loneliness as the negative feeling we have when there is mismatch between the relationships we have and the relationships we need. Reading this, it really struck me. Inadvertently, my lifestyle had gone from being in regular contact with my best friends, who always make me beam with happiness, to a monotonous day-to-day existence with little to no contact with my nearest and dearest. This made me feel down. It wasn’t intentional though and it wasn’t until my GP pointed this out to me that I realised what had happened. 

The Phrase Mental Health on a Sheet

What is sad to read, is that almost half of 18–24-year-olds feel lonely some or all of the time. In my case, I am one of the 1 in 4 adults that feel lonely some or all of the time. So, hats off to The Mental Health Foundation for raising awareness of loneliness, because it affects so many of us and the longer we feel lonely, the more at risk we become of mental health problems. 

If you think you might be experiencing loneliness, my advice would be to speak to your GP. Alternatively, if your workplace has an Employee Assistance Programme, use them to talk things through. Better yet, speak to a loved one – a problem shared is a problem halved. Trust me. Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult to get a GP appointment (it took some perseverance and determination). It was even more difficult to actually speak to them – but the moment I did, was the moment things started to become clearer to me and I could begin to work on how to address the issues.

The Mental Health Foundation is a fantastic charity that has a wealth of information and provides guidance on how to deal with loneliness which you can access here.  They also have a Loneliness School Pack, as well as a Student Guide to Loneliness that I’d encourage you to download for free.  

If you’re a student, you can also access Shout 24/7. Just text STUDENT to 85258.

The reason I’ve written this blog is to help others realise that you are not alone, and if you resonate with what I’ve written, not to feel embarrassed or put off talking things through. Visit the Mental Health Foundation website, download the guides and speak out in any form you feel comfortable.

#IveBeenThere 

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